James Corden's 'Late Late Show' is like 'Stephen Colbert's brother with ADHD'
Starting Monday night, 36-year-old British actor James Corden will take over as host of "The Late Late Show” on CBS, replacing Craig Ferguson.
Starting on Monday night, 36-year-old British actor James Corden will take over as host of "The Late Late Show” on CBS, replacing Craig Ferguson. He is bringing along a new bandleader: comedian and musician Reggie Watts.
Corden is well-known in the United Kingdom, but most Americans are probably familiar with Corden mainly from his recent role as the Baker in "Into the Woods." Now he has relocated his family, which includes two young children, from London to Los Angeles for the new gig.
We visited Corden yesterday at his other new home, a stage on the CBS lot that’s been dressed to look a little like a cabaret crossed with an intimate off-Broadway theater — complete with a fully-stocked bar.
When you're thinking about designing the look and feel of the show, how conscious are you of what has been done on talk shows in the past? How do you try to create something that's both reverent and new?
In every sense of our show, we want to honor and acknowledge the traditions of late night, which is why we've got a skyline of Los Angeles, and there's a couch and a desk. But then we're like, How can we put a twist on that to make it feel fresh and original somehow? One way is that, when we do our interviews, I'm going to sit here and not behind my desk. We're also going to bring all of our guests out at the same time, so all of our guests will sit together for all of the chat segments of the show.
A talk show ends, and then our show starts, and nowhere else on the spectrum of television would that ever happen. No one would say, "Oh, from 9 until 10 we've got a hospital drama, and then 10 to 11 we're going to have another hospital drama with the same diseases," you know? It's very much a late night talk show in so many senses — in no way is this going to be a radical thing — but we just want to put our own spin and take on it.
So it's like the chamber orchestra following the symphony?
I guess so, yeah, or Stephen Colbert's brother with ADHD.
What have been the great challenges of moving to Southern California?
The biggest challenge for us, for my wife and I, is that my wife gave birth to our daughter 14 weeks ago. That in itself is pretty much the biggest thing you can ever do, and then when she was 7 weeks old, to move to California with our 3-year-old son also was... I mean, if I think about the grandparents that are at home, and the aunts and the uncles, it's heartbreaking, really. So in a sense I think I owe it to them for this show to be a success and I owe it to my wife for taking the plunge and saying, "Yes, this is an adventure we should go on as a family."
It's thrilling for me to even visit America. I didn't grow up in a family that was very wealthy, and we never really came on holiday anywhere abroad. We'd occasionally go to the south of France, once or twice, but mostly we'd be in a caravan in the U.K., which is not a pleasant place to spend your summer. I never got to come to America until I was 26, for a play called "The History Boys," which we did in New York, and from the second I got here I just fell in love with the optimism and the positivity of the place, as well as the feeling amongst people of wanting you to do well.
We see Reggie Watts's setup here. Why did you feel he was the perfect companion for you on the show?
He was on a list of one. Having him and a band, a band that he picked and chose — he went to all four corners of the world looking for this band — and I feel like if you're trying to create a show where you want people to say, "I don't know what it will be tonight," he's the single greatest comedian for that. When you go and see him, you don't know which Reggie's going to turn up.
As the show goes on and people get to know me, like I'm very conscious of the fact that we have to introduce audiences to me, and then Reggie's just going to fly, man. He's just going to fly. It's going to be a shining light in our show, no question. He is the best comedic musical performer, not just in this country but possibly the world.
How did you first meet him?
I just sought him out. I said, "Reggie, I've been given this job, and I want you to be part of it." And, in the same way I did, he felt very reticent about taking this job, because his career was on a path and he didn't feel that this was necessarily going to be on that path. Neither did I.
But as we talked about the show, I just said, "Look, all of the things that you are concerned about are the same things that I'm concerned about. We're just going to have fun." And as soon as we started talking about it like that and talking about an atmosphere, like I would say to him, "This show can be whatever you want it to be. You can run the band, or if you say to me, 'I want to take a camera and I want four minutes,' it's yours, it's done. That's what I want the show to feel like."
As we sit here today we're just a couple of days away from the premiere. In terms of the butterflies in your stomach, how does it compare to the opening of a Broadway show or singing in front of Stephen Sondheim for "Into the Woods"?
Putting together a show like this is a very strange thing, because you feel very much like you're just one of a team. But then there comes a moment where they all just tap you on the shoulder and say, "Good luck out there, man." You feel incredibly on your own in those moments. But you just have to remember that this is the very thing that you signed up for, and this is what you wanted.
Ultimately, you've got to Google Earth yourself and realize that this doesn't matter. If this show doesn't work — and it might not — it doesn't mean I'm bad and it doesn't mean my career or life are over, and it's going to pale in comparison with those phone calls you get at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, or the ones that wake you up in the middle of the night, when something's actually gone wrong.
This is not my wife or my children or my parents or my friends, and that's what you have to focus on. Then you just need to take a deep breath and say, "I've just got to enjoy it. I've got to enjoy this so much, and the harder I work, the better this show's going to be." I'm going to stop at nothing to make this show the single greatest show that has ever existed in this time slot.
"The Late Late Show with James Corden" debuts on CBS on Monday, March 23.